Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oktoberfest Celebrations in Argentina?

Villa General Belgrano, Cordoba

Villa General Belgrano
By Roy Heale

Reputedly the third largest celebrations of Oktoberfest outside of Germany can be found in the small central Argentine town of Villa General Belgrano of the province of Cordoba.

This small mountain hamlet of approximately six thousand residents is named after Manuel Belgrano, the creator of the National flag, and is perched on a hillside of the Sierras of Córdoba. Founded in 1930, by two German land speculators, the Alpine quality of the village attracted immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria.

Local Beer Gardens

Newcomers to the village, along with the original settlers, landscaped the mountain ranges with red-roofed, wood-frame homes, microbreweries, pastry and chocolate shops imparting that unique Bavarian style which distinguishes it today. Now pedestrians enjoy the magical Bavarian atmosphere as they stroll around the scenic townsite.

Bavarian Architecture

The village economy flourishes on a year round steady flow of tourists (peaking in October) with an appetite for German delicacies like apple strudel, leberwurst and spätzle plus of course local brewed beer.

Newsstands sell the German language weekly Argentinisches Tageblatt among other German newspapers, and some of the churches offer Sunday services in German and Spanish. Like many isolated immigrant communities, Villa General Belgrano has respected traditions that fell out of favor in Germany long ago, however even though the mother tongue can still be heard, it is being lost with the passage of time.

Entrance To Festival Grounds

For more than fifty years Argentina's National Beer Festival has been held in the district of Villa General Belgrano, thus commemorating the German celebration of Oktoberfest. This event is celebrated during eleven intense days in the Beer Park---a central venue especially designed for the occasion. The attendants drink several liters of beer, which are served in giant German mugs. The main beer brands, both national and international, take part in this traditional festival, in which their premium, regular and special products are promoted at various stands. At certain times, the celebration moves into the center of the city, where there is a parade of the communities that have contributed to the formation of the present European identity of Villa General Belgrano. Thus, delegations from Germany, Denmark, Scotland, Spain, the Canary Islands, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Portugal, Brazil, Greece, Italy, Armenia and Ukraine show off their traditional costumes, expanding the cultural spectrum of the festival.

In the afternoons, the simultaneous opening of the beer barrels is carried out. People gather with their mugs held out trying to get some of the free spurts of beer. According to tradition, drinking the beer from those barrels is supposed to bring people good luck.

Opening of the Kegs

The pagan ritual which became known as Oktoberfest originated in Munich, Germany, five centuries ago, in which worshipers believe in the sparkling goddess that enters the body like an icy stream as she takes hold of the spirit. Argentina welcomes the continuance of this long standing German tradition upheld in the natural beauty of the Sierras de Cordoba.

Find some lederhosen and head to Villa General Belgrano in October for a traditional beer festival and fun times in a European atmosphere.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Outdoor Vacation Paradise of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, Cordoba, Argentina

By Roy Heale

Santa Rosa River

Hidden discreetly on the banks of the Santa Rosa River is the small vacation town of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita. Known mostly to local Argentine tourists, this small town is a popular, authentic local vacation playground for outdoor activities. Off the beaten track of most foreigners, don't expect to find a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Burger King here, but you will be treated to real Argentine cuisine in local cafes and restaurants especially the renowned parillas. Dine along the riverbank or choose an historic restaurant in the village with great food and low prices. Although it is extremely busy during the summer months, a relaxed and tranquil atmosphere prevails.

Riverside Dining

This small village in the province of Córdoba, Argentina is located in the center of the Calamuchita Valley, in the heart of a landscape that includes hills (the Sierras) as well as rivers and lakes. Located between the Sierras Grandes and the Sierras Chicas in the very middle of the river valley this tourist center is 96 km away from Cordoba Capital City and is a good choice to relax in any season. It attracts  numerous visitors to enjoy the beaches and rivers with clear water surrounded by mountainous relief.

Accommodations include a  range of hotel options plus numerous cabaña (cabin) rentals for extended stay vacations. Prices are quite modest and many bargains can be found all year round. The local tourist information bureau keeps a daily list of availability and prices.

Cabaña Resort

At 615 meters above sea level there is almost no wind with ideal temperatures to enjoy outdoor activities year round. This historic region with architecture that goes back to 1575 and the arrival of the Spanish Jesuits is steeped in local culture.

Historic Buildings

Close to the Champaquí mountain range (2884 meters high), hiking or mountain biking are popular activities plus photo safaris to enjoy the natural environment. The Santa Rosa River is an ideal place for sport fishing or to discover pools of calm water with white sandy beaches amidst the riverbank parklands.

At night, Calamuchita invites young people, adults and all visitors to join the locals at discos, bowling alleys and video games arcades on the bustling main street.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Taking The FerroCentral Train From Buenos Aires to Cordoba Capital, Argentina

By Roy Heale
FerroCentral Train

Sadly over the years most of the trans-continental trains in South America have vanished from service.

However, in Argentina there is still train availability from Buenos Aires to Tucamen with several stops along the way. Operated by FerroCentral this journey is longer than traveling by road, but for those who enjoy train trips it is a very inexpensive way to make this journey. Used mostly by locals, this requires considerable advance booking---often several months----as there is limited frequency of only twice per week with a small passenger capacity. Tickets can be purchased at the FerroCentral offices at Retiro train station in Buenos Aires and several classes of service are offered ranging from economy seats to small private cabins.

Our Camarote
Recently we chose to experience this train journey for our vacation in the Sierras of Cordoba, taking the long twenty-two hour trip to Cordoba Capital from Retiro. Costing just around US$30 round-trip for two persons we reserved a sleeping cabin (camarote) for comfort and sightseeing pleasure. With this class of ticket a complimentary breakfast for two is included and a simple, adequate dinner is available for an extra US$6 per person including a main course, dessert pastry and beverage. Although the train departed exactly on schedule we encountered problems on the tracks about half-way through the journey close to Rosario and ended up with a seven hour diversion.

Dining Car

Our sleeping compartment was cozy and comfortable so we were able to enjoy the exceptionally long trip. The dining car offered reasonably good, simple meals at exceptionally low prices, but no alcoholic beverages.

Dinner Main Course


We opted to get off the train early in Villa Maria and finish the journey to our final destination of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita by bus, which proved to be more efficient whilst still allowing us to enjoy the scenery.

One week after we returned to Buenos Aires in early March, 2015 the Federal Government replaced all the FerroCentral train carriages with brand new equipment and we just missed experiencing this upgraded service.

Overall, if you have the time for the journey and can plan your trip far in advance, this is a unique Argentine experience and the cheapest way to travel to the North West regions of this vast country.

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